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What Types of CCTV Cameras Are There?

26th November, 2019

Reliable and comprehensive surveillance is part of many London companies’ security strategy. Surveillance requirements are very diverse, though. CCTV camera manufacturers have risen up to the challenge and came up with a wealth of options in terms of capabilities, performance and price. But the side-effect of their inventiveness is that you look at a product catalogue, the first thing that crosses your mind is just how many types of CCTV cameras are there?

  

Indeed, it turns out there is more than one type of CCTV camera. In fact, there are dozens, depending on what criteria you use to classify them and how you count them – and, for any given application, only some of them are right.

 

So which one should you choose? Where do you look?

 

Today, we’re going to look at some of the most common CCTV camera types available on the UK market. We’re going talk about what makes each type of CCTV camera unique, what each of them is good for, and what caveats you should pay attention to.

 

CCTV Camera Types: Quick Intro

 

The most confusing thing about CCTV camera types is that there is no “official” way to classify CCTV cameras by type, the way you can classify animals by family and species.

 

Some “types” refer to a camera’s shape, such as bullet cameras. Other refer to lighting conditions, such as day/night cameras (which can also be bullet cameras, if they have the right shape!) Others refer to features: ANPR cameras are simply CCTV cameras that can read vehicle license plates. Finally, others, such as Dark Fighter Technology cameras, are simply marketing terms.

 

As a consequence, lumping all camera types together is pretty unhelpful, so we decided to make it easier for you to break them down by criteria. This is what we are going to cover:

 

  1. CCTV Cameras by Mount Type and Shape

– Bullet CamerasCamera types, Bulelt camera, Dome Camera, PTZ Camera High res

– Dome Cameras

– PTZ Cameras

– Discreet and Concealed Cameras

  1. CCTV Cameras by Lens Type

– Single-lens Cameras

– Varifocal Cameras

– Box (C-mount) Cameras

– 360-degree Cameras

  1. CCTV Cameras by Ambient Lighting Conditions

– Day/Night, Night Vision and IR CCTV Cameras

– Color Night Vision Cameras

– Thermal Imaging Cameras

  1. CCTV Cameras by Environmental Conditions

– Indoor Cameras

– Outdoor Cameras

  1. CCTV Cameras by Connectivity

– Wired IP Cameras

– Wireless IP Cameras

– Wire-free IP Cameras

  1. CCTV Cameras by Features

– ANPR/LPR Cameras

– Audio Cameras

– Facial Recognition Cameras

  1. Indoor and Outdoor Cameras

 

It’s important to understand that the industry does not follow a single set of criteria – we just picked the most common ones. Some manufacturers may call a type by a different name, or may not even agree that a particular type exists. For example, there are manufacturers who consider ANPR to be just a feature, not a distinct camera type. Consequently, browsing a product catalogue does require some creativity.

 

Too many CCTV camera types to keep track of? Why not let professionals help you make the right decision? ACCL have been installing cameras in London for more than twenty years! Check out our CCTV installation services and let’s talk!

 

 

CCTV Cameras by Mount Type and Shape

 

The first criteria that can be used to classify cameras is how they are mounted and what shape they have. These things have no bearing on the features or image quality of a camera. However, they do affect how visible and how accessible a camera is. These things determine where a camera can be placed, how effective a camera is in deterring (rather than just detecting) unwanted activities, and how solid it is against a determined assailant.

 

Bullet Cameras

 

Bullet CCTV cameras get their name from their distinctive shape. They are the most common and are instantly recognizable.

 

Bullet CCTV cameras come with all sorts of capabilities. Indoor/outdoor, day/night, wired or wireless, and with or without features such as ANPR. The one thing they have in common is their shape and their mounting. Bullet CCTV cameras are generally fixed (or have a very limited range of motion and zoom).

 

What are they used for?

Bullet cameras are cheap and instantly recognizable. They are the go-to solution for basic surveillance needs. The fact that they are instantly recognizable sends a strong message about surveillance, making them good for deterrence. Their fixed mounting means that they are used for surveying either narrow passages, such as corridors, or fixed points and small areas, such as doors or sections of a yard.

 

Caveats.

Their fixed position makes them unsuitable for surveying wide areas.

 

 Bullet camera

 

Dome Cameras

 

Dome cameras are ceiling-mounted cameras which are mounted inside a protective, dome-shaped cover. The cover is often polarized, so that it’s difficult or outright impossible to tell which way the camera is pointing.

 

Some dome CCTV cameras use particularly solid mounting fixtures and coverings, and are marketed as vandal-proof cameras. While not impervious to brute force of any level, they are, nonetheless, more resistant than other types of cameras.

 

What are they used for?

Dome cameras are also easy to spot, but it’s also harder to tell where they’re facing. Being ceiling-mounted, they are also more difficult to reach. These qualities make them useful for deterrence and general surveillance.

 

Caveats.

Many models have a tri-axis mount that can be used for both walls and ceilings, but some don’t, and can only be mounted on ceilings. Also, while the covering does offer some protection against dust, it’s by no means a universal protection. If you need to install a dome CCTV camera outdoors, you need to choose one that’s specifically designed for outdoors use.

 

 

PTZ Cameras

 

PTZ cameras are cameras that can pan, tilt, and zoom – hence their name. PTZ cameras look somewhat like a dome camera, but the head is mounted on a special frame on which it can rotate and move, and the optical element can zoom in and out.

 

What are they used for?

PTZ cameras are typically used in conjunction with another, wide-area camera. When an event is detected on the wide-area monitor, the PTZ camera is used to get a clearer, closer look at what’s happening. In less complex installations, they are used for an enhanced form of general surveillance – exactly like a bullet camera, except it allows you to take a closer look at things if you need to.

 

Caveats.

PTZ cameras are mechanical devices with moving parts. The mechanical parts can break down, especially if subjected to dust and excessive heat, before the optical and electronic parts do.

 

 PTZ Camera

 

Discreet and Concealed Cameras

 

In most cases, you want CCTV cameras to be clearly visible. This helps deter those with malicious intentions, and it reassures staff, customers and visitors. However, there are cases when you want the cameras not to be visible.

 

These cameras, designed to be hidden inside everyday objects like clocks or smoke detectors, are typically marketed as “discreet” or “concealed” cameras. Their capabilities vary, but the limited space often results in limited optical and storage capabilities.

 

What are they used for?

Discreet surveillance.

 

Caveats.

While you are legally allowed to film people without their knowledge, you can only do so under very specific conditions, and only temporarily. Data protection laws require you to inform people about being filmed. Make sure you are not breaking these laws!

 

 

CCTV Cameras by Lens Type

 

While the shape and mount of a CCTV camera determines many of its characteristics, cameras are optical devices, so their optical apparatus can make a world of difference.

 

The cameras in this section come in virtually any kind of mount type and shape, but their optical capabilities vary.

 

Fixed-Lens Cameras

 

Many cameras have a single lens whose optical parameters cannot be changed. This is the simplest case, and it is indeed sufficient for many usage scenarios. However, the fixed lens also results in a lack of flexibility.

 

What are they used for?

Low- and medium-distance, budget-efficient surveillance.

 

Caveats. Most fixed-lens cameras have a field of view in the region of 75 degrees. This limited coverage makes them inadequate for some surprisingly mundane objectives; for example, they cannot fully cover a square room.

 

Varifocal Cameras

 

Varifocal cameras have adjustable optical parameters – focal length and field of vision. In a word, you get real zooming capabilities.

 

Why is this important? Why not just use a fixed lens with a wide viewing angle, so that it can cover square rooms? Well, it turns out that a wide viewing angle also results in poorer detail quality. Simply put, you cannot (while staying within the same budget) view a larger area while keeping the same picture quality.

 

Typically, varifocal cameras allow you to adjust the angle of vision in the 30 degrees – 109 degrees range, and the focal length varies between 2.8 and 12 mm. Some models can also pan and tilt, but varifocal capabilities are possible on any type of camera.

 

What are they used for?

Variable-distance surveying – for when you need to examine objects that can be as close as 20 yards and as far as 100 yards.

 

Caveats.

Some cameras are marketed as varifocal, but their parameters can only be adjusted manually, at installation. Also, as with any device with moving parts, its mechanical components can break down before its optical or electronic components, so make sure to account for that in your maintenance procedures.

 

Box (C-mount) Cameras

 

The name “box camera” is mostly historical baggage at this point. A long time ago, when CCTV cameras were first introduced, their shape was similar to that of regular TV cameras, which looked like big, bulky boxes. Strictly-speaking, they are a type of fixed-lens camera, but they are often marketed as a distinct CCTV camera type.

 

Why do they look like big bulky boxes? The peculiar design trends of the 1970s probably played a role, but the most important reason has to do with something called the C-mount – the mechanical fixture on which the lens is mounted. The C-mount is longer than its more recent counterpart, the CS-mount. But it also allows for mounting lenses with a higher focal length and, therefore, higher resolution.

 

What are they used for?

High-resolution surveillance

 

Caveats.

C-mount cameras cannot use CS-mount lenses – or at least not by default. Some, but not all C-mount CCTV cameras can be fitted with a special adapter ring. That’s sometimes sold as an extra.

 

360-Degree Cameras

 

360-degree or panoramic CCTV cameras, have an array of sensors (and lenses) which allows them to “see” all around themselves. They are typically ceiling-mounted and look a little like dome cameras.

 

The image quality of 360-degree CCTV cameras is usually fairly low. That is deliberate. These cameras are generally deployed in conjunction with PTZ cameras or other targetable cameras. The typical usage scenario is that security personnel would use the 360-degree images to detect suspicious or unwanted behaviour, and use a PTZ camera to get a closer look at what’s happening.

 

What are they used for?

General, wide-area surveillance, in conjunction with other camera types.

 

Caveats.

The camera can “see” all around itself, but still only as far as any obstacle in its path. Like any camera, a 360-degree camera cannot see around a corner, for example.

 

Camera Types by Lighting Conditions

 

CCTV cameras use imaging sensors that are somewhat like the retina of a human eye. And, just like our retina, these sensors need some amount of light in order to discern anything.

 

All cameras can discern images under normal light levels — for example, in daylight, or under normal artificial illumination. However, some CCTV cameras are specifically designed for abnormal ambient lighting conditions.

 

Day/Night, Night Vision and IR CCTV Cameras

 

24/7 surveillance is a common requirement, so CCTV cameras have to accommodate natural day-night cycles. In many areas, such as offices, it’s possible to maintain some level of ambient lighting during the night, at least in sensitive areas.

 

Day/night CCTV cameras are designed for environments where that is not possible. Day/night CCTV cameras are equipped with their own LEDs, typically in the IR spectrum, which can be used to illuminate the camera’s immediate environment. IR light is invisible to the human eye, but not to the camera’s sensor.

 

Day/night CCTV cameras are sometimes marketed as Night Vision or IR security cameras. These are not the same as thermal imaging CCTV cameras (which, confusingly enough, are sometimes marketed as IR CCTV cameras, too).

 

What are they used for?

24/7 surveillance of areas where ambient lighting cannot always be maintained. Until 10-15 years ago, that used to be primarily outdoors areas, but growing awareness about energy consumption and pollution means that these cameras are frequently deployed for indoors use, too.

 

Caveats:

Night vision CCTV cameras have trouble seeing through windows. Windows reflect a high proportion of IR light, and the camera can be “blinded” by its own IR LEDs. In addition to that, the maximum range at which the camera can “see” in the dark depends on the strength of the LEDs. This range can be lower during the night than during the day.

 

Color Night Vision Cameras

 

Most night vision CCTV cameras are monochrome. That’s primarily for technical reasons, including (but not limited to) technical limitations in terms of what imaging sensors can process.

 

However, in the last couple of years, imaging sensors that can discern colours even with little ambient lighting have become available. Using a combination of colour-enabled imaging sensors, IR lighting, and advanced video processing techniques, some manufacturers have been able to come up with colour night vision CCTV cameras.

 

What are they used for?

Enhanced surveillance. Being able to discern the colour of a vehicle or of a thief’s clothes can be useful during an investigation.

 

Caveats:

Colour night vision CCTV cameras can mitigate the effect of low ambient lighting conditions, but cannot fully compensate for the absence of lighting. In total darkness, their images will not be much better than those of a normal IR camera. Consequently, in practice, colour night vision CCTV cameras are used in conjunction with some type of low-intensity ambient light, like street lights or a porch light.

 

 Infrared and Thermal-Imaging Cameras

 

Most night vision cameras illuminate the target area with their own IR LEDs. This is the cheapest option, and is appropriate for almost all usage scenarios.

 

However, there are CCTV cameras which don’t use their own IR LEDs, but rather amplify the IR light emitted by the objects themselves. These cameras are called thermal-imaging cameras because IR light is emitted by all bodies and warm objects.

 

What are they used for?

Surveillance of areas where direct IR illumination is not possible, or not desirable (e.g. because it can be detected).

 

Caveats:

Thermal imaging cameras tend to run on the expensive side and their image quality is nowhere near what other camera types can provide. The images tend to be blurry and akin to those that you would see on an old photo negative. They are sharp enough to see what’s happening, but not enough to discern fine details.

 

Camera Types by Connectivity

 

Virtually every CCTV camera deployed today is an IP camera. That means it connects to your internal network, just like a computer. The mechanism through which a camera connects to your network has far-reaching consequences in terms of maintenance, performance and security, so it’s a factor that is worth taking into consideration.

 

Wired CCTV Cameras

 

Wired CCTV cameras connect to your network through a wired connection, typically an Ethernet cable. This is the cheapest and most straightforward connection type, and (in a rare case of commoditisation), it’s also the fastest one.

 

The downside is that you have an extra wire to run to your device. That’s one extra maintenance hassle, and one more wire which can be cut in order to render the camera useless.

 

What are they used for?

Wired CCTV cameras can be used for any purpose, but wired connections tend to be the first choice for high-quality streams.

 

Caveats:

There are technical as well as legal limits to how you can run data cables. For example, Ethernet cables work only up to a certain distance (which varies depending on cable type), and there are limits to how much you can bend them.

 

You also need to ensure that cables are shielded from environmental factors and that they do not present a tripping hazard. At the end of the day, it’s a lot harder than just running a cable from here to there.

 

Wireless CCTV Cameras

 

Wireless CCTV cameras are the Wi-Fi-enabled counterpart to wired cameras. They connect to your internal network via Wi-Fi. That means one less cable to run. On the downside, accommodating multiple high-quality streams over a Wi-Fi connection can be taxing in terms of performance.

 

What are they used for?

Wireless CCTV cameras can be used for any purpose. Their primary advantages are convenience and additional resilience, since there’s one less cable that can be cut.

 

Caveats:

Wireless CCTV cameras still need to be powered somehow, which typically means you still need to run a cable to a power socket!

 

Wire-Free CCTV Cameras

 

Wire-free CCTV cameras are exactly what the name implies — CCTV cameras that can be deployed and used without using any cables. This typically involves Wi-Fi for data connectivity, and batteries or solar power modules as a power sources.

 

The limited power of these devices puts a cap on the image quality that they can achieve, but their convenience and resilience is hard to match.

 

What are they used for?

Outdoors surveillance, especially in places where running power cables is inconvenient, such as back or front yards.

 

Caveats:

Monitoring the battery levels of wire-free CCTV cameras is extremely important, especially since — given London’s weather — you cannot always rely on solar chargers.

 

Camera Types by Features

 

CCTV cameras have all sorts of features in addition to being able to record images. Some of these features, such as the ability to recognize vehicle number plates, are distinctive enough that cameras are bought specifically for that feature.

 

ANPR/LPR Cameras

 

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), sometimes called License Plate Recognition (LPR), is a video processing feature that allows cameras to automatically recognize and record the number plates of vehicles that pass in front of the camera.

 

ANPR CCTV cameras tend to be on the pricey side, because the image processing software needs high-quality images to work. They typically come in bullet or dome form factors.

 anpr-device

What are they used for?

Parking space access logging and control. Unless they are integrated with a centralized access logging and/or control system, ANPR doesn’t provide much value.

 

Caveats:

ANPR CCTV cameras don’t have 100% accuracy, and their accuracy depends on proper installation and ambient lighting conditions.

 

Facial Recognition Cameras

 

Facial recognition CCTV cameras are equipped with the ability to match faces in a picture against a set of known faces in a database.

 

Although a lot of progress has been made in this area, facial recognition is still not quite on par with what you see on CSI. CCTV cameras have reasonable, but far from perfect accuracy. They can make the job of security or reception personnel easier, but are no replacement for either.

 

Facial recognition is quite demanding in terms of computational power, so these cameras tend to be fairly expensive, too.

 

 

What are they used for?

Facial recognition CCTV cameras are primarily used to flag high-profile individuals, such as VIP guests or people who have been banned from an organisations’s premises.

 

Caveats:

Facial recognition accuracy is far from 100% reliable, and can vary significantly, even when examining the same subjects.

 

 

Audio and Two-Way Audio CCTV Cameras

 

Security cameras have traditionally been video-only, but this doesn’t have to be the case. If audio recordings are relevant for security purposes, you can deploy audio-enabled CCTV cameras.

 

Some CCTV cameras also have speakers and can relay your voice. These are called two-way audio CCTV cameras.

 

What are they used for?

Enhanced surveillance, primarily. Two-way audio CCTV cameras can also be used as intercom replacements. They are also used to enhance the security of security-sensitive entrance areas by allowing security personnel to speak to someone who requests access without granting them physical access to the area.

 

Caveats:

A two-way audio CCTV camera can reveal what’s happening at the other end of the wire (in the surveillance room) while the audio circuit is open. Make sure to factor that in your security strategy and to instruct your staff accordingly!

 

Indoor and Outdoor Cameras

 

CCTV cameras can be deployed in almost every imaginable circumstance. There are CCTV cameras operating in space or in Antarctica. But not every CCTV camera can work everywhere.

 

Outdoors CCTV cameras are designed specifically to be protected against moisture (very important in London!), and to function even while under direct sunlight or during cold winter days. But none of this is free: outdoor cameras are bulkier, heavier, and more expensive than the equivalent indoors model.

 

CCTV cameras designed for indoors use dispense with some of the protective measures. This makes them lighter and cheaper.

 

As a general rule, you want to choose the right camera for each environment. While an outdoors CCTV camera will work fine indoors, there is rarely a reason to pay extra for an outdoors camera and deploy it indoors. Similarly, a camera for indoors use won’t last long when deployed outside.

 

There are indoors environments where more rugged cameras may be necessary though. Busy industrial floors or indoor swimming pools, for example, are not typical indoors environments. Cameras can be exposed to high levels of vibration, dust or moisture. In this case, you may want to look into camera models designed specifically for industrial or other special indoors environments.

 

We know – this is a lot of information on CCTV camera types. But don’t worry – you don’t have to memorise it all. You just have to find the perfect CCTV camera installers to help you make an informed choice. Get in touch with us and schedule your FREE, no-obligations on-site survey.

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